IT Consulting Framework
Another interesting book for consulting is “The IT Consultant : A Commonsense Framework for Managing the Client Relationship” by Rick Freedman. Tried to bring out the essense of the book
1 Approach the Client
Approaching the client – the first step in the consulting relationship – could be the offshore of a lead or earlier meeting wherein the opportunity was conceived.
During these initial discussions, it is important to set in the context of the business. It is not just the technical issue that needs to be understood and discussed. Getting the holistic view of the project is the key. This would require keen observation of subtle clues to understand the importance of the project, benefits expected from its success, powers of play etc.
2 Negotiate the Relationship
There is a clear difference in relationship between handling software development (more of employer / employee or customer / supplier relationship) – which has more clarity due to the nature of the deliverable and being engaged as a consultant – where the role and responsibility is less clear.
Some of the queries that need to be clarified at this stage are:
- The deliverable – is it a white paper, design or model etc
- How to get the details of the organization so that the best recommendations can be made?
- Who from the client side will be involved and for how long?
- When does the engagement begin and end? (time based, or mile-stone based etc.)
In an advisory relationship, almost any assistance that the consultant agrees to provide can imply several different levels of service (for example, the level of evaluation to be done if product recommendation is part of technology stack).
At this stage, the scope, budget and time – the triple constraints of project management – have to be decided.
Better to judge if the client wants it good (project performance related), fast (speed of developing a solution) or cheap (low cost). The thumb-rule is that, typically it is possible to achieve only two of these three (for example, good and fast can’t be cheap, cheap and fast may not be good).
Also try to arrive at clear roles and responsibilities (Client as well as consultant) and assumptions. In Assumptions, include all that is taken for granted – e.g., access to client premises, documentation, id and access, expected participation, expected time for review/feedback etc.
3 Visualize Success
During the visualization process, the core objectives of the client have to be simplified and worded into a compelling statement. A simply worded picture of the end benefit of the project would be great.
From the client side, the sponsorship team – preferably consisting of stakeholders who directly benefit from the project – has to be developed. Consultant role in recommending and aiding the setting up of this team can provide a major boost to his image.
Agree on the communication strategy – clear, targeted, consistent and continual. Consultants have to ensure that communication is continuous and well spread (cannot afford to deliver a set of recommendations at the end of the engagement with no intermediate interactions). Also in addition to providing information, communication should be persuasive.
4 Understand the Client’s situation
Call it “data collection”, “discovery” or “due-diligence”. It is important to uncover and analyze enough data to make an informed decision about client situation and the risks associated (I shall cover Data collection methods in a later blog).
5 Design Solution Options
This is the crux of the consulting relationship, where inventiveness and innovation are required (lest the answers would be obvious and consultant not required in the first place!)
The ability to analyze a problem/opportunity, to apply some well known methods for generating, testing and refining ideas, and then to shape the best of those ideas to proposed solutions – can essentially be learnt (further honed by experience).
Amazing number of design options can be got by looking through the websites, white papers, manuals, journals, assistance from Vendors – and be tapped to generate more ideas. It is said that “Good Design is to borrow, genius design is to steal”!
6 Collaborate to Select Solutions
This is the phase where the solution options are put forth to the client. The presentation should be clear and persuasive. The solution presentation is the central deliverable of any consulting engagement.
Presenting options (of course, with their pros and cons) and insisting that the clients make the choices is a critical strategy in the consulting process. The decision process cannot be outsourced. It must be made by those who will live with the results.
Maturity as an IT consultant also means leaving technical biases out of the mix. Every consulting assignment should not be treated as an opportunity to convince the client that Unix or Netware etc is the solution to every IT problem. It is important to present options and evaluate solutions in the context of the customer.
Options can be looked upon various ways – for example:
|Low budget, easily implemented||More ambitious, satisfies more of the objective, more expensive||Address all the most ambitious objectives.|
|Minimally disruptive to daily operations||Requires more intense efforts to implement and integrate||Include contingency planning, training, and documentation.|
|Use “off-the-shelf” technology; Relies on client’s existing skills sets;||Typically a multi-phase project; Significant training and documentation needed.||Special Customized technologies and applications; Build vs Buy decisions included;|
7 Deliver Business Results
Consulting engagements that provide no measurable results to clients are failures. Technically focused consultants tend to gauge their success based on the technical correctness of their findings. Advisors, on the other hand, work in partnership with the clients to ensure that the advice they give results in meaningful change and measurable benefit.